Cast of 'Driving Miss Daisy' discusses bringing the play to B'way

Linda Armstrong | 4/12/2011, 5:23 p.m.

I was so excited when I received a press invitation to a meet and greet with the playwright, director and stars of the Broadway play "Driving Miss Daisy." This drama will play at the John Golden Theater, located at 252 West 45th Street. It stars James Earl Jones (JEJ) and Vanessa Redgrave (VR) in the lead roles of Hoke Coleburn (the chauffeur) and Ms. Daisy Werthan.

At the meet and greet, there was a panel discussion about the play lead by one of the producers, Jed Bernstein (JB). Adam Zotovich is also a producer.

During the discussion, Bernstein asked questions and received answers from Jones; Redgrave; actor Boyd Gaines (BG); who plays Ms. Daisy's son Boolie; playwright Alfred Uhry (AU); and director David Esbjornson (DE).

The meet and greet took place in an intimate room at the Roundabout Rehearsal Studios. The Q&A follows.

JB: Alfred, how did the play start? Was this idea in your head and heart your whole life?

AU: It was just the life that I lived. But I had never written a play. I had written books and musicals. I thought I could write a play about my childhood in Atlanta, and it went on from there.

JB: David, you talk about the time in which this play is set and that period of American history, could you talk about that?

DE: One of the things that struck me when I read the play is that I'm doing a revival of a play that took place in 1982. The attitudes and country have moved to some place new. But then, Alfred's also writing a play that took place from the 1950s to the 1970s, so we keep going backwards and having to look back.

I thought that when approaching this production, it would be interesting to actually embrace that idea and to find a way in which it could become a memory play--that we weren't trying to say these were the politics of today, but that there was a very important part in American history where some incredible things, movements were happening both personally and politically and capture some of that feeling as a time when some of those same issues are on the rise again. So the play is very timely.

JB: Vanessa, you've played so many iconic characters. How do you decide what you're interested in?

VR: It's the play as a whole. This is an extraordinary play, a superb play, and that's what stands out.

JB: James Earl, you've done so many things in so many ways--voiceovers, movies--but you keep coming back to the stage. What is it that keeps you coming back to theater?

JEJ: It's a job, and jobs are nice to have. We actors, no matter how well known we may be, can never feel that we are above unemployment. I was trained for the stage through summer stock and the American Theater Wing. I like to work; you mentioned voiceovers. I'll find anyone to do a job.

JB: In your early years, you were in Mississippi. Did you know a lot of the characters in this play?